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Pint-Sized Science: Magic Rings
By Sandy Fleming

There's an entire world just waiting to be explored in your very own backyard. You can change your child's perspective and point of view with this simple activity idea. Using inexpensive and readily available materials, you can open your child's eyes to wonders! This activity is suitable for preschoolers and up. Younger children participate with extra supervision and assistance. Any number can enjoy it, making it great for families, care providers, teachers, and children's group leaders. The activity has many names, but my favorite is "Magic Ring."

You will need a length of string or yarn for each child or group. The exact size is not really important, but two to four feet seems to work well. You may want to use smaller strings with younger or less experienced children. Tie the ends of the string together to form a loop. In addition, you may want to gather magnifying glasses, paper and pencils for sketching, and field guides with information about plants, rocks, and insects common to your area.

Choose an open area of grass or dirt and lay the circle of string on the ground. The area enclosed by the string becomes a tiny world, full of wonders and surprises just waiting to be discovered. Children will be astounded by the variety of plants and creatures living within their "magic rings." If available, use the magnifying glasses for closer peeks at the finds from within the circle. Be sure to stress to the kids that these are living creatures, not to be uprooted or disturbed. Watching with eyes instead of hands will ensure that the plant and animal life within the ring remains healthy and whole.

Children can work alone or in groups for this activity. I've found that pairs of children do well at this. The children naturally take different positions around the circle and so view it from different perspectives. Their viewing angle affects what they see and what they notice. Also, if children are working with partners or in small groups, it is interesting for them to compare their observations of the same space.

Use the idea as a starting point for learning that is appropriate for your children's age groups. Encourage language skills by having children describe what they see within their circles. Ask lots of open-ended questions that require full sentence answers. Don't fall into the trap of asking only simple yes/no questions, like "Did you see an ant?" Instead, encourage longer responses with conversation starters like "Tell me about something in your circle that moved."

This activity also lends itself to categorizing activities. Count flowers, insects, pebbles, and so forth. Were there any manmade items within the circle? What kinds? How did they get there? Discuss environmental issues together with the kids as well. Are there signs of erosion or damage to the environment within the circle? What might be causing it?

Children may enjoy sketching their more interesting finds. The search through field guides for pictures that match plants and insects observed will help young children to notice similarities and differences. Older kids will benefit from doing more in-depth research to learn facts about their finds. Venn Diagrams (You remember, those intertwining circles where you list attributes of two things. You list the characteristics that are common between the two items in the middle area where the two circles overlap, and things that are unique about each thing in the outer parts of each
circle.) are a wonderful tool to help children notice similarities and differences. You can create Venn Diagrams that show comparisons between two different magic rings, or between the observations of one ring during two different time periods (morning and afternoon?) or two different kinds of weather (sunny or cool and cloudy?). Also, don't forget to include some graphing activities to compare observed plants and animals in different rings. Even young children can create a simple bar graph by coloring or pasting one marker for each thing observed.

No matter what follow-up or extension activities you choose to use, try making "magic rings" with your kids soon. It's a super way to build an appreciation for the wonders of creation, and we all need reminders from time to time to notice the small miracles around us each and every day.

Sandy Fleming is an educator, author and workshop facilitator. She resides in southern Michigan with her husband and three daughters. Sandy leads workshops for daycare providers and parents in the region, tutors students, volunteers for Girl Scouts and her church, and teaches online classes for adults and children. She loves to make new friends, so please drop her an e-mail at


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